• Austflight Drifter By Ant's Airplanes

    Austflight Drifter By Ant's Airplanes

    By Bill Stack (July 11, 2011)


    Screen shots by Ant's Airplanes

    Ultralight aircraft provide unique simulation experiences because of their slow speeds, low altitudes, and exposure to the elements. While many simmers seek thrills available from high-stress military or powerful airliner flights, ultralight pilots enjoy relaxing behind a stick, viewing sceneries, keeping hands on the controls, relying on elementary pilotage for navigation, feeling the wind in their faces, and hearing it whoosh by their ears.

    The Austflight Drifter 582 is a two seat, wire braced, tail-dragging ultralight aircraft made by Drifter Aircraft Pty Ltd of Queensland, Australia. Approximately 500 have been built and sold since the early 1980s. Some are approaching 10,000 hours of operation, according to Drifter's website. It cruises at about 55 to 60 knots.

    These are a few of the many features of the flightsim version touted by Ant's Airplanes:

    • Wheeled and float plane versions
    • Genuine engine sounds
    • Custom made radio and GPS units
    • Thirteen paint variations
    • Animations for tiedowns, pitot covers, and wheel chocks

    The aircraft's high overhead wing enables an excellent field of view. "If you've spent some money on some nice scenery recently," the developer says," "then this is the perfect aircraft to see it."

    SAMPLE OF AVAILABLE COLORS

    Selection Menu 25-451 25-455
    Multicolor Red Float
    Screen shots by Bill Stack

    Visual Features

    Ant's visual rendition of the Austflight Drifter 582 ultralight is realistic compared with the photos I found on the Internet. Exteriors are true in dimensions, shapes, and surface textures. Structural wires, cables, and hardware are visible from inside and outside the aircraft. The 3D virtual cockpit and instrument panel are also realistic. There is no 2D panel.

    The GPS device (explained later) can be removed from and replaced to the virtual cockpit with the Animation Manager (explained later).

    DRIFTER INTERIORS

    Cockpit Panel Closeup Popup Windows
    Rear Seat Both Seats

    Screen shots by Bill Stack

    The Drifter's Performance

    Developer Anthony Lynch of Australia says flight modeling of his Austflight Drifter is based on the opinions and thoughts of the owner plus one other gentleman he knows who also owned a Drifter.

    Drifter Performance Specifications
    Item Drifter Aircraft Ant's Airplanes
    Empty Weight 203.9 KG NA
    Useful Load 196.1 KG NA
    Maximum Weight 400 KG 450 KG
    Range 225 NM 260 NM
    Ceiling NA NA
    Endurance 180 Min 240 Min
    Take-Off Speed NA 49 KTS
    Best Rate of Climb Speed 45 KTS 43-50 KTS
    Cruising Speed 55 KTS 50-65
    Maneuvering Speed 55 KTS NA
    Stall Speed 29-31 KTS 36 KTS
    Never-Exceed Speed 80 KTS NA
    Approach Speed 55 MPH 48-50
    Sources: www.drifteraircraft.com & Ant's Airplanes.
    "NA" means "Not Available"

    To evaluate all flight phases, I flew several four free flights covering all flight phases and the tutorial flight provided by Ant's Airplanes. I used clear air and standard atmosphere (59 Fahrenheit and 29.92 inches) for most flights and real-world weather for one flight, which was visual flight rules with warm air and a gentle breeze that day. For all flights, I used the Drifter's default gross weight of 793 pounds (360 kilograms).

    Free Flights: For a sense of realism, I sought the home base listed on the official Drifter Aircraft website: Kupunn in Dalby, Queensland, Australia. It has one "sealed" runway 950 meters (3,115 feet) long and one grass strip 300 meters (984 feet) long, according to Drifter Aircraft. Unfortunately, it is not available in FSX, and the coordinates shown on the Drifter website are barren in FSX, so I used Dalby Airport (YDAY) in nearby Dalby, Queensland. At an elevation of 1,137 feet (347 meters), its two runways are 4/22 at 4,999 feet (1,525 meters) and 13/31 at 4,160 feet (1,269 meters). I also used a grass strip in my hometown: Knoxville's Sky Ranch at 836 feet (255 meters) elevation.

    Preflight. The tachometer reads 2,200 RPMs when the engine is idling. By comparison, the FSX Air Creation Trike Ultralight idles at 660 RPMs.

    Taxiing. The Drifter taxis very easily. A slight power increase to 4,200 RPMs causes the aircraft to taxi at about 15 to 20 knots, which is controllable and reasonable for this aircraft.

    Taking Off. The checklist calls for full throttle, which drives the tachometer to 6,800 RPMs, almost to its red line. This power level enabled the aircraft to reach 45 KTS quickly. The aircraft lifted off readily at this speed.

    Climbing Out: At full throttle as recommended in the checklist, the Drifter climbed out at the recommended 49 KTS airspeed very easily. Repeated pitch adjustment was needed to keep it at 49 KTS because the aircraft responds so quickly to controls. Once stablized, it climbed smoothly. Without a vertical speed indicator, I could not determine a climb rate, so I clocked it climbing about 750 feet in one minute. At the 45 KTS best climb speed cited by Drifter Aircraft, it climbed 500 feet in one minute. The Trike Ultralight climbs out at 6,000 RPMs and 60 MPH.

    Cruising: The aircraft easily holds straight and level flight at altitudes common for ultralights. At 5,000 feet, for example, it maintained the specified 55 KTS cruising speed at the 5,000 RPM recommended power level. The Trike Ultralight cruises comfortably between 5,000 and 5,500 RPMs and 65 MPH.

    Ceiling is not specified by Drifter Aircraft or Ant's, and the developer says he doesn't know its maximum or cruising altitude. "From what I have seen, Drifters generally fly below 3,000 feet above the ground," he said. At full throttle and 49 KTS as Ant's recommends for climbing, the Drifter climbed steadily to more than 11,000 feet without losing airspeed, although its RPMs fell to 5,900 and its climb rate diminished remarkably. It topped out at 11,800 feet, maintaining its 49 KTS airspeed but not climbing any longer. After I leveled off and settled in at 11,800 feet, the airspeed increased to 55 KTS. Then the Drifter climbed to 12,300 feet. While the aircraft seemed comfortable as these high altitudes, its fully exposed occupants might not be so comfortable because of thin air and cold temperatures. Although this ceiling doesn't seem realistic for that reason, I found the Fireball ultralight on the Internet whose ceiling is said to be 12,000 feet.

    Turning: Turning is very quick and easy, but not so easy that control would be lost by over banking.

    Descending: The checklist does not recommend power levels for descending. Since the cruising level of 5,000 RPMs would be too much, I throttled down to the 2,200 RPM idle level, and the Drifter glided peacefully at 50 KTS and about 1,000 feet per minute. It will descend gracefully at lower vertical speeds if desired with higher power levels.

    Approaching: This aircraft descends toward the runway smoothly with low power. Lacking flaps for descent assistance, it must approach at reasonable altitudes and slopes, or it could approach too high and/or too fast. The checklist calls for approaching and landing at 49 KTS, but that seems a bit fast. It will approach as slowly as 40 KTS, but caution is needed to avoid decelerating below stall speed. It will pitch down and lose altitude quickly when stalling, so low altitude stalls should be avoided. Being lightweight, the Drifter is quite vulnerable to crosswinds. That condition combined with the quick control responses makes holding a runway centerline during approach and landing especially tricky.

    Landing: The Drifter lands easily at speeds between 40 KTS and its 49 knot recommended landing speed. It will stall and plop on the runway if allowed to decelerate below its specified stall speed. Its wheel brakes stop it quickly.

    Tutorial Flight: The tutorial flight guides learners through all flight phases of the float model via a seven-page Adobe Acrobat (PDF) file. Using step-by-step instructions in clear language with accompanying images, it guides pilots from startup, through take-off, go around, landing, and finally to shutdown. It uses the Friday Harbor water port in Washington State, U.S.A. As with most of my other test flights, I used clear skies, calm air, and standard atmosphere. I found handling of the floats model similar to the wheels model.

    Overall, both wheels and float models of Ant's Drifter perform similarly to the Air Creation Trike Ultralight. They require more power for taking off and climbing than the Trike because of their heavier weight. They're generally very easy and fun to fly. Having never flown a real-world Drifter, I cannot vouch for its authenticity. A flight simmer who has flown in a real-world Drifter posted a brief review on the Pilot Shop saying: "The people at Ant's did a very good job making this plane for FSX."

    Using the fuel capacity, average cruising speed, and specified range, I calculated that the Drifter will stay aloft for close to 5 hours. That's a lot of recreational flying on one fillup.

    Instruments: Four instruments in Ant's Drifter are noteworthy.

    • Instead of using a fuel gauge, the Drifter's pilots are required to literally look at the fuel tank under their seat. Some Drifters have a side-view mirror that pilots can use instead of bending over to read the tank. The Fuel Level popup window is a mirror reflection of the fuel tank.

    • The yaw string is a simple yet ingenious device performing the same basic function as a slip/skid indicator. It's literally a red string that appears to stick straight up in the pilot's forward view during flight, but it's actually lying on the windscreen. Whenever the aircraft yaws, the string slides to the opposite side by inertia. When the aircraft isn't moving, the string naturally falls below the wind screen. Although we don't see many of them in our simulation aircraft, they're used on a variety of aircraft, and they're the oldest flight instrument &#8212 dating to the Wright Brothers themselves. The Drifter's yaw string appears in one of this review's cockpit/panel screen shots.

    • The radio is easy to use with simple mouse clicks on its keypad. It has a 10-frequency memory that enables users to cycle through stored frequencies instead of swapping among two.

    • The GPS device (described later) differs from the Garmin models most flight simmers are familiar with.
    DRIFTER IN FLIGHT
    Screen shots by Bill Stack

    The AvMap EKP IV GPS

    Ant's chose to make a different GPS unit instead of using the FSX Garmin hand-held unit. The developer says it is based on the AvMap EKP IV GPS unit but is not 100-percent accurate. "The real unit is a very complex device with many options and settings," the developer explains. "Having said that, this unit does pretty much everything that the default GPS units do (and one or two things that they don't)." The real-world AvMap EKP IV GPS is described on the Sporty's Pilot Shop website as follows: "STILL the largest screen in aviation (7" diagonal) . . . vertical navigation planning . . . complete airport information." It retails at Sporty's for $1,499 US.

    Ant's EKP GPS provides all the basic data that users of the standard MSFS Garmin 500 are accustomed to such as moving maps, nearest airports, and flight-plan waypoints. Its major differentiation from other GPS devices is a larger screen whose orientation can be changed. It is very easy to use with large clickable buttons and one clickable knob.

    AVMAP EKP IV GPS

    Map Page Go-To Page Nearest Airport Page

    Screen shots by Bill Stack

    Extra Items

    Ant's Drifter is accompanied by two supplementary programs: an Animation Manager and a Setup Program.

    Animation Manager: The Animation Manager is a versatile program with multiple functions. It enables the showing of various parts of the aircraft, the fuel/weight loads, and animated items such as pilot, passenger, tie-downs, pitot covers, and wheel chocks. It can be used for changing the altimeter from millibars to inches and for making the occupants and the GPS unit appear and disappear in the virtual cockpit. It appears as a 2-D popup screen selected by pressing Shift/3.

    Drifter Setup Program: This is a separate program that enables users to set preferences for the Drifter. It requires Microsoft .NET Framework 4.0 installed on the user's system. It also requires the 2010 Visual C++ redistributable package. The necessary DLL files are included in the package so that additional installation is unnecessary, the developer says. The Drifter can be flown without the Drifter Setup program. Since I did not install Microsoft Net Framework, I did not evaluate the Drifter Setup program.

    EXTRA ITEMS

    Animation Manager Animations Activated

    Screen shots by Bill Stack

    The Documents

    Ample documents are included for maximizing the usage of this aircraft:

    EKP IV GPS: This seven-page manual explains the use of this unique GPS device with text and images. The manual explains how to turn it on and off, access is pages, change the map orientation, add and remove approaches, and various other functions.

    Drifter Pilot's Handbook: This 39-page manual uses text and images to explain all uses of this product from selecting the model, identifying numerous parts, using its controls and instruments, and flying the aircraft. It also explains use of the Animation Manager and the Drifter Setup program.

    Drifter Tutorial Flight: This seven-page manual's detailed instructions lead readers through a quick go-around flight from starting up through taking off, flying, and landing.

    Checklists: Comprehensive checklists within the pilot's kneeboard provide step-by-step guidance for flying this aircraft through all flight phases, including preflight and shutdown. The latter pages provide guidance for emergencies such as electrical failures, engine fires, and engine failures.

    Reference Sheet: This document provides considerable knowledge such as operating limits, payload and fuel, instrumentation, and engine performance.

    The three manuals are very well organized, clearly written, and easy to follow. I especially like the brief, step-by-step instructions in the tutorial. There's no way to botch that flight unless a person doesn't pay attention to the guidance.

    DOCUMENT SAMPLES

    Pilot's Handbook GPS Manual Tutorial Flight
    Checklists Reference Sheet

    Screen shot by Bill Stack

    Technical Features

    This product is for FSX only. Minimum system requirements are Microsoft Flight Simulator X SP2, Acceleration or Gold, and 296MB of free hard drive space. Microsoft NET 4.0 is needed to run the setup program. The developer advises: "It is impossible to give an accurate PC system requirement as even similarly spec'ed systems may perform differently with FSX."

    Purchase and installation from the Pilot Shop are very easy. Downloading and installation are quick. License code and acknowledgment of copyright are required.

    The installation program installs the aircraft files into the appropriate FSX aircraft folders.

    In the Aircraft Selection menu, the Drifter is listed in the manufacturer category under "Austflight."

    Frame rates are very good, ranging in the teens and 20s, just like the Air Creation Trike Ultralight.

    Sounds are unique to this aircraft with 22 distinct sound files installed into the sound folder.

    Removing the product (if desired) must be done through the Windows Add/Remove programs function or with Windows Explorer.

    Responses to questions were quick and clear, which bodes well for buyers who have questions about the product.

    Readers with technical questions not answered in this review should ask the developer, who is in the best position to answer such questions. Using the links below, go to the Pilot Shop page where the product is listed and described, then click on "Manufacturer Tech Support" in the right column.

    PURCHASE FEATURES

    Instant download from the Pilot Shop

    Yes

    Installation program

    Yes

    License key required

    Yes

    Copyright acknowledgment required

    Yes

    Checklists included

    Yes

    Manual included

    Three

    Uninstall program included

    No

    More Information

    Information about the Drifter Ultralight is available from the Drifter Aircraft website. Details of the real-world AvMap EKP IV GPS unit are available from Sporty's Pilot Shop. Details about Microsoft Net 4.0 are available from the Microsoft website.

    The Developer

    Ant's Airplanes is a year-old enterprise founded by Anthony Lynch of Australia, who has been making airport scenery for more than four years. The Austflight Drifter is his second for-sale simulation aircraft, the other being the Tecnam Sierra. The Drifter was chosen for development because it belongs to a friend he met through the Internet. "He was able to supply me some photos of his local airfield," Anthony explained, "Which I modeled for FSX, and in return I said I would make his aircraft."

    Wrapup

    Ant's Austflight Drifter ultralight is a fine rendition of a popular recreational aircraft. Visuals are excellent inside and outside. The instrument panel, radio, and GPS are clear and easy to read. The mirror view of the fuel tanks adds to this aircraft's uniqueness. Performance is as expected from an ultralight and comparable to others. Documents are well organized, clearly written, and very helpful toward enjoying this aircraft. Tech support is quick and to the point. The Animation Manager is a unique tool. Based on all other aspects of this product, I have every reason to believe the Setup Program is as outstanding, even though I did not evaluate it. Overall, this product can provide a type of enjoyment not available from many other simulation aircraft.

    Bill Stack
    [email protected]




    Learn more about the Austflight Drifter for FSX by Ant's Airplane's .


    Bill Stack is author of several books about flight simulation, a regular author in flight-sim magazines, and a contributor to Flight Sim Com. His website is www.topskills.com


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